Union would consider expanded playoffs

SAN FRANCISCO -- Baseball's playoffs could be expanding in two years.

The new head of the players' union says his members are open to adding more wild-card teams for 2012 and possibly extending the division series to a best-of-seven.

Union head Michael Weiner says it's also possible players would agree to cutting the regular season from 162 games, but that's more problematic because it would cost teams revenue.

"There is sentiment among a substantial segment of the players to consider expanding the playoffs," Weiner said Monday in an interview with The Associated Press ahead of his first World Series since replacing Donald Fehr as union head.

Eight of 30 baseball teams make the playoffs under the format that began in 1995, a year later than intended because of a strike that wiped out the postseason in '94.

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig appears to be increasingly in favor of proposing more playoff teams during collective bargaining with the union next year, which will determine the postseason format for 2012 and beyond.

"We have less teams than any other sport," he said last month. "We certainly haven't abused anything."

In the NFL, 12 of 32 teams make the playoffs. In the NBA and NHL, 16 of 30 teams advance to the postseason.

The first-round series have been best-of-five since they began. It's possible they could follow the path of the league championship series, which began as best-of-five in 1969 and then expanded to best-of-seven in 1985.

"There are some players who have expressed an interest in that, as well," Weiner said. "Obviously, you've got to look at everything together. But I think we can have a very healthy discussion with the commissioner's office when bargaining begins about these issues."

Weiner said the union would likely generate a consensus on its playoff stance during its annual executive board meeting in December. Bargaining is likely to start in the first half of the year on the labor contract to replace the one expiring on Dec. 11, 2011.

Only minor tinkering with the playoffs is possible for next October.

"We've been talking about a revised schedule in 2011 that would be a compressed schedule for postseason play," he said. "The structure for playoffs in 2011 will be the same as it's been throughout this contract."

The regular season expanded from 154 games to 162 in the American League in 1961 and the National League a year later, when each of those circuits went from eight to 10 teams.

"Certainly some of the players have said either we should shorten the regular season because the regular season's too long or we should shorten the regular season to accommodate expanded postseason," Weiner said, adding that would have "revenue implications for the industry."

"That is one of the ideas that they are kicking around. But having said that, we understand that a proposal to reduce the length of the regular season will be viewed one way by the owners as opposed to a proposal to expand or modify the structure of the postseason."

Not all players are in favor of a longer postseason.

"Personally, I like the system the way it is," San Francisco Giants outfielder Aaron Rowand said as he prepared for Wednesday night's World Series opener against the Texas Rangers. "I think just the one wild-card team from each league. If you're in a division where you've got a team running away with it, it gives all those other teams hope of something to play for throughout the course of the season."

Through 1968, there were no divisions and the team with the best regular-season record in each league advanced to the World Series.

Giants reliever Jeremy Affeldt is concerned that adding wild-card teams or increasing the length of the division series would make a long season even longer.

"If they're going to do that, they need to shorten the season then. That's a lot of games and that's a long time. Even in the playoffs now we're going potentially to Nov. 5," he said. "Sometimes they think we're just robots, but you've got to think of potential injuries. On pitchers, that's a lot of throwing. Position players, some play every game all year. It just takes a toll on the body. If they're going to do that, they've got to think a lot about the ramifications."

Texas manager Ron Washington thinks adding playoff teams is a good idea.

"It just gives a team an opportunity to get to the playoffs," he said. "It doesn't matter what's your record once you get to the playoffs. It usually comes down to who's playing the best baseball at the time."

However, Rangers outfielder Jeff Francoeur considers himself a traditionalist.

"I don't like adding another wild card," he said Tuesday. "I think that's what's so cool, so special about baseball, is that you only have eight teams that go."

On other topics:

• Weiner said the advanced dates for free agency this offseason were a test for future offseasons. "Both sides will have a chance to evaluate them and when we begin bargaining, presumably sometime in the early part of 2011, we'll have a season of that under our belt," he said.

• While the union chose not to pursue collusion grievances following the past two offseasons, "some players obviously continue to be concerned about how the free-agent market has operated. We're considering additional proposals concerning the free-agent market," he said.

• Players may propose changes to salary arbitration eligibility, which has been basically unchanged since 1990. "Obviously players have seen the Super 2 cutoff become -- to a certain extent it's become predictable," he said. "Other players say independent of that we think it's time to revisit the question of salary arbitration eligibility in general."

• Players hope the September decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the federal government illegally seized the 2003 drug survey test records and samples will be the end of the matter. The government has until December to ask the Supreme Court to review the case. "Obviously we are pleased with what the court did, and we hope this puts an end to the litigation and that would allow the union and the commissioner's office to be able to honor the promise that was made to all the players who were tested in 2003," he said. "I hope we can look back on 2010 and say that was the year that this litigation ended. Obviously, that remains to be seen."